At 25, Doris Day found herself standing on the cusp of stardom but abandoned by the man she loved. “I could not doubt his strong desire for me,” she later said of her second husband, saxophonist George Weidler. “But I guess his desire not to be Mr. Doris Day was even stronger.”
Over the many decades of her career, people fell in love with Doris’ silky voice, girl-next-door beauty and confident, sunny charm. But in her private life, the men she desperately wanted to love her always broke her heart. “I think you have to try to stay positive despite life’s ups and downs,” Doris told Closer just before her passing in 2019 at age 97. “I believe that everything happens for a reason, and so many good things came out of the bad times.”
Sadly, her upbringing didn’t provide young Doris Kappelhoff with a model for a happy marriage. Her father, William, was a strict and cold man who blatantly cheated on Doris’ mother. “He would pass through Doris’ bedroom with her mother’s best friend. They would go into the next room and make love, and Doris could hear it!” relates David Kaufman, author of Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door. “Who does that to a little girl?”
Doris wed for the first time at 19 but divorced her husband, Al Jorden — a violent schizophrenic and the father of her son Terry — three years later. She was sure she’d find a happier life with Weidler. Despite his chemistry with Doris, Weidler, who was only 20 when they wed, wasn’t really ready for marriage and fatherhood. “If we had taken time to get acquainted instead of falling into each other’s arms, our marriage might have been successful,” said Doris.
When Weidler walked out eight months later, Doris threw herself into the Hollywood party scene, often as the “date” of her agent, Al Levy. At one event, she met the producer who would hire her to appear in 1948’s Romance on the High Seas. In the film, Doris sang “It’s Magic,” which became her signature tune. She also fell for her co-star Jack Carson. “Jack and Doris might have jumped into marriage if their respected histories had been a little different,” explains Kaufman. “Both had already been married twice, and Doris was still smarting from her fresh break up.”
Matters grew more complicated when Doris’ estranged husband showed up begging for another chance. “Weidler apologized to Doris for treating her so badly and swore that he had turned over a new leaf and found religion. He had become obsessed with Christian Science — which Doris also decided to adopt,” says David Bret, author of Doris Day: Reluctant Star. The couple reunited and split up several times before Doris finally divorced him in 1949.
Once free, she resumed the inadvisable habit of falling for her co-stars. “Doris didn’t like being alone,” says Kaufman. Steve Cochran, who played her husband in 1951’s Storm Warning, came on strong the night they met. Unfortunately, Steve was a notorious womanizer, nicknamed “Mr. King Size” around Hollywood. Legendary star Joan Crawford also believed Steve belonged to her. “She would always hate Doris for stealing her man,” says Bret.
Doris also felt a romantic spark with her other Storm Warning co-star, Ronald Reagan. “The two would sneak off to his apartment high in the Hollywood Hills and make love while marveling at the panoramic view below,” says Bret. Of all her lovers of this period, Ron left Doris with the fondest memories. “Ronnie had recently been divorced from Jane Wyman,” recalled Doris in her memoir, Doris Day: Her Own Story. “He danced well and he had a pleasant personality, so I invariably enjoyed going out with Ronnie.”
Al Levy, then Doris’ manager, also continued to be a presence in her life. But while she was happy to accompany him to parties, she never looked at him as a serious romantic partner. He felt otherwise. “Matters came to a head when Doris met him for dinner and told him to back off,” says Bret. “Levy followed her back to her hotel room, where he attempted to rape her.”
Doris appealed to Levy’s partners for a new manager, which is how she met Marty Melcher, who would become her third husband. However, when they met, Melcher was still married to Patty Andrews of the Andrews Sisters. “Doris didn’t enjoy coming between any man and his wife. It wasn’t something she welcomed,” says Kaufman.
Despite her misgivings, Marty, a Hollywood insider, seemed to be offering Doris the kind of support she never found in her earlier marriages. He “knew the Andrews Sisters were going downhill after WWII and he saw that Doris had potential,” says Kaufman.
Before she signed the divorce papers, Patty Andrews made it crystal clear who she blamed. “She showed up at Doris’ house with a baseball bat!” says Kaufman.
Doris and Marty married April 3, 1951. The union would last 17 years, but when he died of a heart attack, Doris discovered he had squandered her $20 million fortune. She was destitute and devastated. “All I ever wanted is … a baby, a husband who really loved me, a home, all the happiness that they could bring,” Doris said in 1991. “I never got that, and that’s all I really wanted.”
—Reporting by Amanda Champagne-Meadows
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